Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Using small business to shield discrimination

Photo from Out & About Newspaper
Friday's Human Rights Campaign / Tennessee Equality Project press conference with state and local lawmakers resulted in a couple of quick gains for the cause of equality in Tennessee.

First, State Representative Brenda Gilmore announced that she would be a House sponsor of SB2121, the bill filed by Sen. Jim Kyle to repeal HB600, which nullified the Metro Nashville Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance.  If passed, it would give us the status quo ante.   Any sober observer realizes that the effort to pass SB2121 faces an uphill climb.  Nevertheless the development represents progress because before Friday there was no House sponsor.  Whether you look at it as a one yard gain or a first down, it's an advance.

Second, it put the opposition on the defensive and caused them to show a few of their cards.  They have now backtracked from a general pro-business argument to a defense of small business argument.  In light of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce's reversal on HB600, the right wing has lost half its shield.  They have retreated to hiding behind only one segment of the business community.  As WSMV's Cara Kumari reported on Friday:

"It just creates an environment for businessmen. So, no, it passed with bipartisan support and in this environment I just don't see it getting out of subcommittee," Rep. Glen Casada said.
Casada says this bill isn't for the Fortune 500 companies, it was passed for the small businesses. 

The problems with this line of defense are numerous, however.

*The history is inaccurate.  Supporters of HB600 did not make just a small business argument when they were advancing the bill.  They made a general business argument.  I can understand why they would want to hide their retreat, but the support of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, several of whose board members come from Fortune 500 companies, was trumpeted on the House floor.

*The Metro ordinance had a small business exemption.

*47 businesses (most of them small) supported the Metro ordinance, and they even supported it before the small business exemption was put into the bill.

*NFIB surveys of small business owners consistently reveal that poor or low sales are their number one concern with regulation registering lower.  And by the way, when these business owners do indicate that regulation is a problem, they are typically talking about federal health and safety regulations, not local non-discrimination ordinances.

*Austin example disproves the negative effect on business, small and large.  I've said it many times before, but Austin has a non-discrimination ordinance even stronger than the one Nashville passed and its economy is poised better than just about any other in the South to weather our current conditions.  

HB600 never had any credible business rationale.  It was always about preventing local governments from protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from job discrimination.  Hiding behind small businesses won't cut it.

-Chris Sanders

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